For a day called Black Friday, it sure did start off with a beautiful sunrise. I missed the beginning of it but screamed out the back door of our room and grabbed a few shots as the sky lit up. It turned the mountains opposing the sunrise all shades of gorgeous. Purple mountain majesty indeed!
We got an earlier start than we had planned so when we arrived in Wanaka we didn’t eat our planned lunch at The Cow Restaurant or spend much time in town. It was easy to tell that Wanaka is a nice little place. It has that big vacation spot vibe and was packed with people when we were there. Everything is clean, high quality, and ready for fun. Even though we just stopped for gas and lunch supplies, this was probably our favorite tiny NZ town of the trip.
ROB ROY GLACIER
As we pushed west out of Wanaka the road quickly went from asphalt to gravel and the scenery just got bigger and better. Previously the Southern Alps were the backdrop to the beautiful places we had visited but now we were going to get up in them! On our right was the glacier-fed Matukituki River and Mt. Aspiring (“The Matterhorn of the South”) and to our left Treble Cone and other tall mountains. If you imagine an open hand with splayed fingers, we were working our way up the webbing between two fingers in the narrow Matukituki Valley as the Southern Alps soared up around us.
It is no wonder that along this valley scenes from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug were filmed showing the party leaving the Misty Mountains and heading down toward Mirkwood. The surrounding peaks served as various parts of the Misty Mountains. To give you a good idea what it looks like from a helicopter, watch the beginning of The Two Towers. Here Mt. Aspiring stands in for the tall mountains around Moria.
We had rented a 4WD for the south island and the drive out to the Rob Roy Glacier trail from Wanaka was one of the reasons why. It was something that had me a little anxious if I’m being honest. The Frenzy guidebook had said the hour and fifteen minute drive was gravel almost the entire way and, because of its popularity, the road wasn’t in great shape. Frenzy suggested that, for some, taking an infrequent shuttle might be a better option than driving. He said we should expect to experience washboard surfaces that would want to rattle our teeth loose but, to our surprise, the road must have been freshly graded because it was very smooth. Of course the big Highlander we were driving was good at soaking up lumps and bumps too but now we didn’t have to worry about doing any damage to the rental car (yet – details in my next post). This was our first experience fording streams in a vehicle too. Even though it had been raining off and on since our trip started, all crossings were very doable and not too deep and soon enough we reached the Raspberry Creek Car Park where our last big hike would begin.
At 3-4 hours round trip, the Rob Roy Glacier hike is just a moderate length but still fairly strenuous hike mostly spent going up the side of a mountain. The reward is great though. You get to see one of NZ’s famous extremely low glaciers up close and personal! What is extra cool about this one is that you can end your hike in a meadow below the glacier where it is melting away. Sometimes parts of the glacier may crack and fall off. All the time ice is melting and running off in an impressive collection of waterfalls. On nice days the world’s smartest birds (kea parrots) can get close and personal with you or, more specifically, your packed-in food. Sadly, this was another day of not cooperative weather. It was completely cloudy the entire hike up and back, it rained almost the entire time, and I think the rain drove off all the kea.
Melanie can’t stand being wet and cold so she quickly turned around when we reached the viewing area. I stayed behind for about 10 minutes to take pictures and eat a sandwich. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was to become a fun game of trying to catch her on the way down the mountain. I had no idea when I started how much fun I’d have trying to “trail run” down the mountain with a pack on my back. I kept hoping I’d see Melanie just ahead but I never did. She did a really nice thing and greeted me at the gate at the trailhead though. When I quizzed her she said that she had wanted to get off the mountain and into drier and warmer clothes so she had run when it was safe to do so too.
It was really funny to me how personally people took being passed on the trail. There were several nationalities that passed us going up because I kept stopping to grab snapshots with my mobile phone. I think they thought I was really slow. Maybe they didn’t want the slow guy passing them on the way down? The first lady I encountered seemed to purposefully walk down the middle of the trail so I couldn’t easily pass her (it was narrow and on a sheer cliff face most of the time). I thought it was just coincidence or a difference in trail etiquette, but she let two other guys pass right by her. Later after I got around her, I saw the two guys stopped to look for birds at one of the wider spots in the trail. When they saw me coming rather than just let me walk by, they quickly got back on the trail and started down. After I got around them I happened upon a young couple. When the guy saw me coming he called to his girlfriend in what I think was German and she caught up to him. They then took up the whole trail holding hands. It was a really weird experience and one I’ve never even heard about, let alone witnessed, before.
Back at the Rob Roy parking lot, Melanie did some reading and napping in the car while I tried to get some pictures of the area. After we had both recovered, we continued south to our final NZ home in Queenstown. I’m so glad we saved it for last. It is easily the most beautiful of the major cities in NZ and it is understandable why so many people on quick trips to NZ only visit here. There were people from all over the world buzzing around this really small place. There are tons of shopping, dining, adventuring, and sleeping options here.
We chose to stay right on the lake in the middle of downtown at the Novotel Queenstown Lakeside Hotel. It was second only to the Amora in its quality big city hotel feel and a top notch establishment. I’ve heard the views of the lakes are spectacular from the rooms that have them but we cheaped out so I don’t know for sure. Bottom line, I would recommend this hotel to anyone.
For dinner it was the world famous Fergburger (warning: Geocities-style website with music) of course. Before we left on our trip, our friend Gracie had told us we must eat one and had been looking forward to the experience. When we asked for the location, the hotel receptionist told us to head to Shotover St and look for the very long line. She was right. It seems everyone loves Fergburger. It was a giant hamburger and it was delicious. Better than 5 Guys? No, about the same. But if you want a good hamburger it was worth the wait. Plus, how often will you get a hamburger the size of both of your fists?
After dinner we skipped over to Mrs. Ferg’s, conveniently located two doors uphill, for some very tasty gelato – lemon meringue for me and passion fruit for Mel. That stuff was so good we’d visit them again in the coming days.
After dinner and dessert we waddled back to the hotel room knowing that we had some driving to do the next day. As we settled in to the comfy bed, I was beaming thinking about two of the places we were going to visit. Along with “Get off the road!” in Wellington, these two locations were probably my most eagerly anticipated stops on the trip. Find out more about them in the penultimate installment!